Dr. Rebecca L. Watts, Chancellor, WGU Ohio
Ohio faces a widening talent gap. Although the state is second in the country in job creation, more than 150,000 positions stand vacant due to a lack of skilled employees. In fact, 41 percent of CEOs listed talent availability as a top business challenge going into 2019, according to Columbus CEO’s Central Ohio Survey.
Additionally, Regionomics’ 2019 economic forecast for central Ohio predicts job growth will decline from 1.4 percent in 2018 to 1.2 percent and again will be lower than the U.S. average. Bill LaFayette, Regionomics’ founding economist, blames the decline on a lack of qualified workers.
The problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Statewide educational attainment goals call for 65 percent of Ohio residents to earn a college degree or postsecondary certificate or credential by 2025. However, only 43 percent of residents have met that standard. Ohio today ranks 33rd in educational attainment. While employers work hard to develop and grow their talent, higher education leaders are eager to help.
Without question, community colleges such as Columbus State are expanding opportunities and building pathways for workforce development. These vital institutions offer access to people who otherwise would face barriers of geographic distance and affordability in pursuing a college degree. Increasingly, these individuals reflect the contemporary student of the 21st century.
Ohio’s excellent higher education system serves millions of traditional students well. But many contemporary students, including adults with full-time jobs, often have difficulty accessing a traditional college degree program. Some can’t attend full time because of work or family responsibilities, while others can’t afford the cost.
In 2018, a group of workforce and education organizations joined together to call attention to this problem. Its report, “Ensuring Ohio Can Compete: Meeting Ohio’s 2025 Attainment Goal,” listed 10 recommendations, which included providing more support and flexible academic paths for nontraditional students to earn a degree. The report also noted that one solution is the availability of “online and competency-based educational experiences.”
Competency-based models like nonprofit, accredited, online WGU Ohio measure learning rather than time spent in class. This allows students to complete a course and move on without the restrictions of the traditional semester framework or the need to advance in lockstep with other students.
Helping Ohioans achieve their goals means removing obstacles and providing a wide variety of options that meet diverse student needs. When community colleges and universities work with employers to provide training in key industries such as IT, teaching, business and healthcare, more Ohioans will be better educated and equipped to realize their dreams while strengthening central Ohio’s economy.